Sahrawi diplomat addresses dangers of so-called autonomy on decolonization process

alien habib kentaui
Tue, 03/05/2024 - 09:23

Shaheed Hafed, 5 March 2024 (SPS) - The Spanish newspaper “El Independiente” published an article by Sahrawi diplomat Alien Habib Kentaui, in which he addressed the dangers of so-called "autonomy" on the decolonization process.

The Sahrawi diplomat pointed out that “the historical experience of the African continent reveals that decolonization is not annexation and that decolonization is not autonomy. In the context of the African decolonization process, the right to self- determination is purely and simply identified with the concept of independence and the birth of a new nation.”

Below is the full text of the article:

“Dangers of autonomy in the decolonization of Africa

On Western Sahara, a whole plethora of opinions of academics, experts and diplomats in Western chancelleries and a host of visits to the region have recently resurfaced. Each in his own way fervent by a desire to "solve" the conflict.

All see in its prolongation a serious uncontrollable drift towards a conflagration of greater proportions. Some, concerned about the trivialization of international law, call for respect for the legitimate rights of the Saharawi people. And others, almost in guilty cries, proclaim that the conflict has been dragging on for decades and that it is time to put an immediate end to the entrenchment of this conflict. The latter, whose sentiments are as altruistic as they are evanescent, claim that the will of the Saharawi people is still inscrutable.

And, among all the possible options to respect their wish, they opt for the most inopportune, the least credible, the least democratic and the least realistic. However, they not only insinuate, but repeat ad nauseam, that autonomy, an empty and inopportune proposal, is the best option that meets the aspirations of the Saharawi people. Some with more ardor add the adjective "the most" to distinguish themselves above the rest.

So many laments for a lack of solution to the conflict and so many efforts deployed in the search for options of solution and yet what was accepted as the most democratic, the fairest and the most acceptable solution is ignored. It is curious the frantic effort to bury the referendum option, the only option which enjoyed the acceptance of the Polisario Front, the Kingdom of Morocco and the unanimity of the Security Council. In this recently revived enthusiasm, the Polisario Front's proposal presented to the UN Secretary General and the President of the Security Council on April 10, 2007, before the Moroccan autonomy proposal was announced, is also eclipsed. In all this hubbub, the real intentions of several of the various spokesmen and emissaries have been laid bare, and it is not surprising that it has raised blisters, aroused suspicions and given rise to legitimate questioning in various circles in the region and especially within Saharawi society.

The historical experience of the African continent reveals that decolonization is not annexation and that decolonization is not autonomy. In the context of the African decolonization process, the right to self- determination is purely and simply identified with the concept of independence and the birth of a new nation. However much one would like to divert it from this tradition, the question of Western Sahara can only be approached in this context. As early as 1975, the attempt to force another perspective precipitated thecatastrophe that has kept the entire Maghreb region in a state of constant anxiety.

In 1950, and before the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU 1963), precursor of the African Union (AU 2002), an attempt was made to impose the concept of autonomy as a form of decolonization. Eritrea was the guinea pig for this risky experiment at a crucial moment in Africa's liberation struggle. The result was a resounding failure and an untold cost in suffering and tragedy for the African continent.

On December 2, 1950, the United Nations adopted the ill-fated Resolution 390 (V) which deprived the people of Eritrea of their legitimate right to a free and independent state. In its place, autonomy within the Ethiopian empire was imposed as a path to the decolonization of Eritrea. And despite the assurances of the Security Council, the extent of autonomy and the presence of international observers, within a short time Eritrea's autonomy was transformed into pure annexation by the grace of His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. The emperor considered himself a shadow of the creator on earth. His proclamations and edicts were sacred. Law and covenants could not be hindrances to his power.

However, nothing could avoid the verdict of history. The prolongation of the conflict, the arrogance of His Majesty and the blind bet on foreign alliances ended with a deadly attrition of Ethiopia and the overthrow of Emperor Haile

Selassie and the regime that replaced him. Finally, after 42 years of regional disarray and 30 years of war, the UN, repentant, admits its mea culpa and goes back to square one. In 1992 it created the UNOVER (United Nations Observer Mission to Verify the Referendum in Eritrea), held a year later, thus remedying a grievance imposed by circumstantial alliances to the detriment of legality, against the will of the Eritrean people and the spirit of decolonization in Africa.

The trial with Eritrea was a bitter experience, resulting in one of the bloodiest wars in the history of the continent, famines, exoduses and a chronic destabilization in the Horn of Africa that to this day continues to torment and shape the future of the region. But finally the inevitable prevailed: Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia despite multiple historical, linguistic and  cultural ties.

Today again in Western Sahara there is an attempt to repeat the same formula by means of shady deals or consensual agreements with the occupying power, ignoring the will of the Saharawi people. The formula of "autonomy" is an experiment already failed by history and experience, and incompatible with the spirit of the decolonization of Africa. This formula that was tried to impose on Eritrea is today resurfacing to force and legitimize the occupation of Western Sahara, as if they did not understand that this design can only lead to the same adverse and pernicious effects already experienced in the Horn of Africa. The essential element would also be missing: the consent and will of the Saharawi people, as yesterday the consent and will of the people of Eritrea was also ignored.

It is not for nothing that the founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity were right: in the historical context of Africa, only respect for the right to self-determination as an imperative rule of international law can guarantee the stability of the continent. Hence the constitutive charter of the OAU, and recently of the AU, which contextualizes this norm to reaffirm the principle of the intangibility of borders inherited from the colonial period. The principle of Uti possidetis juris, infringed by the Moroccan invasion, is enshrined as a dogma to avoid the balkanization of the continent. This principle was also adopted in Latin America after independence to prevent conflicts arising from claims and counter-claims.

As far as Western Sahara is concerned, in 1982 the Organization of African Unity finally settled with the interpretation of this doctrine by recognizing the Saharawi Republic as a full member state within the organization.

Recognition considered as the legitimate expression of the Saharawi people's right to self-determination in strict interpretation of the doctrine established in the OAU charter. But not before exhausting all possibilities of mediation to make Morocco respect and accept this cardinal principle with which the OAU identifies its own existence. Morocco's opposition to any

mediation and to any solution other than the fait accompli precipitated the historic recognition. A model to follow, whose rejection by the United Nations is the cause of all the mess and failures of this organization in dealing with the decolonization of Western Sahara.

To impose autonomy on the Saharawi people against their will would be tantamount to imposing a permanent war in the region, an unthinkable folly. Is the disastrous attempt to impose Eritrean autonomy within imperial Ethiopia under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie ignored? Unfortunately, little has been learned from the turbulent history of Africa's decolonization process.

More than three decades of harrowing warfare in the Horn of Africa are more than enough to understand that the imposition of autonomies in the context of Africa's decolonization is a political and legal aberration. It is clear that little has been learned since then and that autonomy continues to be interpreted capriciously as a cover for annexation. Both for the Ethiopia of Emperor Haile Selassie and for the current Kingdom of Morocco, non-compliance with their obligations is the norm, the speeches and  edicts of their sovereigns transcend any decision of the government, parliament and of course international legality.

Unfulfilled promises do not augur respect for any future commitments. Hasan II already promised to respect the result of a referendum and "that Morocco would be the first country to open an embassy in an independent Western Sahara if so decided by the ballot box". Soon the promise became that only a referendum confirming Moroccan sovereignty is valid.

Today, Morocco disavows everything related to a referendum and is sticking to the autonomy proposal as the only solution.

Autonomy, however much it may be dressed up with praise, remains a mere annexation. It is tying the Saharawi people to the yoke of another subjugated society. An injustice that would simply be the easiest method of imposition and legalization of the colonial fait accompli. It would be "the final solution" of the Saharawi question. This is the solution offered to the Saharawi people and the region. Nothing can give legality to a flagrant violation of the principle of the intangibility of the borders inherited from the colonial era.

In a nutshell, autonomy is a capitulation consisting of:

-              Dismantle the Saharawi resistance and impose and legitimize an occupation. What could not be imposed by force or diplomacy for half a century.

-              Distort the meaning of the right to self- determination of the Saharawi people, so deeply rooted in the doctrine of the United Nations and the African Union, and the abandonment of everything related to the decolonization of the Saharawi question.

-              Dismantling all the diplomatic achievements of

the Saharawi people through the closure of its embassies and representations in the world.

-              Dismantling their rearguard in the liberated zones and refugee camps.

-              Converting the Saharawi army into an appendage of the local police to ensure the imposition of autonomy in the territory.

-              To use the management expertise of the Saharawi administration for garbage collection and other superfluous tasks in an occupied territory.

The second phase of Moroccan expansionism would begin after the hypothetical imposition of autonomy in Western Sahara. It seems clear that the proponents of autonomy are completely unaware of what an imposition of Moroccan autonomy in Western Sahara would bring to the region. It would be the beginning of a second phase of expansionism in the entire region.

In this existential confrontation in which the Saharawi people face alone the weight of aggression, it deserves all the joint support of all its neighbors to repel expansionism. Support even from those who mistakenly believe that they feel protected by an exceptionality, immune to Moroccan expansionism, and dangerously bet on the concept of autonomy as a solution. The salvation of all Morocco's neighbors would be collective, otherwise we would all succumb one by one to the clutches of its expansionism. Abandoning the Saharawi people to their fate, in addition to a serious acquiescence to the acquisition of territories by the use of force, would also open wide the doors of a region so coveted by an aggressive expansionism, drunk with the support of alliances that only incite to adventure.

Indifference at this time to this situation would be tantamount to a self-inflicted mortal wound and what has always been latent would begin to surface: the Saharawi resistance would undoubtedly determine the future of the entire region.

Alien Habib Kentaui

Former Ambassador of the Saharawi Republic to the Organization of African Union.”